Friday, 7 December 2012

Internal promotion

The usual euphoria induced by working at The Bookshop, Welwyn Garden City, was made  more intense recently by the news that one of our co-proprietors had been interviewed on BBC Three Counties Radio. If you visit this link, and slide the timer to 34:50, you can listen to this exchange, which was inspired by the sad news that Waterstone's has closed its branches in Stevenage and Watford.  Alternatively, you can listen to all the preceding pieces and become acquainted with the yodelling puppy of Baldock and Amersham's largest rawlplug.  I'm not entirely clear about these things, but I understand that if you don't visit the link within 72 hours, it will have turned into a digital pumpkin, or have exploded. In any case, our man offered some interesting insights into the challenges of running a modern bookstore and into the trade in general.

Things became even more giddy when it emerged that - because we had sold nearly all our advent calendars, and the non-advent calendars could be moved into the space thus created, and that the requisite special shelf label-holders had been reclaimed from the warehouse, (where they had been languishing in a box clearly marked 'Tinsel') - our beloved manager was introducing a 'staff recommends' display.  She Who Is Spontaneously Obeyed sat us down in the Staff Training corner and slowly and patiently explained that we could choose our two bestest books and write ever so much nice things about them on special labels. A period of brief cogitation produced the selections, the descriptions of which had then to be expressed in about five lines of text; a demanding exercise which must have been performed hundreds of thousands of times in bookshops and which might provide the contents for one of those quirky anthologies that emerge only at Christmas, and cause department allocation anxieties to already overwrought booksellers. My brace of titles is Donne's Selected Poems and Philip Reeve's wonderful Mortal Engines, and I was delighted to see a colleague had selected the excellent The Night Circus.

I became something of a veteran of these efforts during my first eight years in bookselling, and have often been amused to see the minor disputes that arise. I have seen beleaguered managers calmly but firmly explain that the resident shop revolutionary couldn't choose 'Easy bomb construction Illustrated', or be obliged to devise a spreadsheet of NASA-boggling complexity to ensure that the books' sales could be fairly compared, taking into account the average number of copies held, the position in display (rotated according to another spreadsheet), the average national popularity of the genre, the current astrological alignment and the prevailing wind direction. Surreptitious re-positioning of books - sometimes without opening hours - was also not entirely unknown.

In the Spaghetti Junction of modern publishing, helpful road-signs are one of the things a good bookshop can provide, and booksellers' choices are an interesting way to do this.  Do come and view the full range - trains from London run regularly, and you will get to see the Shredded Wheat factory, which only heroic restraint has prevented me from mentioning much more often.

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